English 481: Popular Then/Classic Now: Advanced Study in American Authors, 1865-1940

Paper 1

Length 3-4 typed, double-spaced pages (750-1000 words, but can be longer if you wish)

February 7: Typed rough draft due in class
February 9: Paper due at beginning of class if you are turning in a paper copy OR uploaded to Angel by 9 p.m. if you are turning in an electronic copy.


  • The first paper does not require research, although secondary sources may be helpful. Rather, its purpose is to demonstrate your ability to choose a significant, appropriately limited topic in American literature; to investigate and support a thesis of your own devising; to analyze with skill and insight the evidence from specific literary works; and to present the whole in a clearly organized, well-written fashion.
  • The essay should incorporate at least one work read in class. You may choose your own topic for the paper if you consult with me ahead of time. 
  • Your paper should be limited enough to provide a specific thesis and a close analysis of the texts; repeating broad, obvious generalities (i.e., "Women were limited by society's expectations in the nineteenth century") or ideas we have discussed in class will not be sufficient.
  • Content is very important, but good organization, sentence structure, and editing skills are also important. Citations and the Works Cited page should follow MLA format. More guidelines for turning in papers in this class are here: http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/format.htm. You can find good information on citing sources online here: http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/resdoc5e/RES5e_ch04_o.html


    These topics are broad and are meant to suggest ideas to you; you should think about developing your own ideas using these as guidelines.

    1. Your own topic. Please check with me (via email) about your topic. The only firm requirement is that you must discuss at least one of the works we’ve read in class.

    2. Choosing one of the selections in the Household Book of Poetry or another such 19th-century source, compare a poem from a lesser-known but popular poet with a poem on a similar subject by Dickinson. What characteristics would make these poems popular or well-regarded during the nineteenth century (if that's true)?

    3. Analyze one or more of Twain's early pieces of writing and compare it with either (1) a story in the tradition of Southwestern Humor or (2) one of his late stories.

    4. Choose a story by Twain or Freeman that was published in a magazine or newspaper and discuss it in the context of the other pieces with which it was published.

    5. Briefly analyze one work by Dickinson or Freeman that challenges the ways in which women were perceived in the nineteenth century.  Make sure that you analyze the work closely.

    6. Using the versions of Dickinson's poetry available in facsimile editions in the library or in the Dickinson archives, explore the versions of a poem or sequence of poems to determine the ways in which the meanings change through the poet's revisions.

    7. An author's letters and interviews can be revealing, especially about the ways in which they see their own work. Analyze a story or work by Freeman, Twain, or Dickinson and, using their comments about it, discuss the ways in which their views about it may differ from our own.